Zero Impact Farming Manifesto


WRITER:  Pang, Yiu Kai  (´^Ä£¶¥) HONG KONG

June, 2017.





Lacking Of Systems Thinking

It doesn¡¦t need detailed explanation as nowadays people with some common knowledge all know the mainstream industrial type of farming is harming the global environment as well as consumers¡¦ health. One basic most thing we all must recognize is that no particular species growing on the ground exists independently of other living species and physical environment around it. Rather, there are very complex interactions among any one species and all else on earth in systems enclosing sub-systems or as sub-system within other larger systems. This is why Ecology is the first systems science ever developed by scientists. So, when you treat your crop as existing independently, pumping in nutrients most relevent for it¡¦s specific growth, sooner or later you will have depleted or flooded nutrients needed by a plethora of other entities in the soil and vicinity that are also responsible for providing readily absorbable nutrients to your crop. Although your crop may look nice, growing fast since you¡¦ve pumped in directly related nutrients, but it¡¦s real health has already been affected and the crop has become more vulnerable to contracting diseases.


The War Between Humans And Nature

Going on with the systems negligence, you spray pesticides, fungicides to control diseases, it works! But it also works in further damaging the systems balance of bugs and micro-organisms, much more bugs /germs appear later to attack your increasingly unhealthy plant. Then you have to pump in heavier and heavier doses of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, more and more often, and still works. But  those bugs/germs turn to let you know why they live a short life cycles, that¡¦s to let their spray resistant mutants can undergo enough generations of multiplications to evolve a mainstream strain quick enough to attack your crop again. By then you have to develop new types of chemicals to keep them under control. You continue to succeed, but the war between humans and Nature has escalated.


Releasing Soil Carbon Back Into The Atmosphere

Improper nutrients together with pesticides/herbicides/fungicides kill all living beings in the soil, which in turn releases the carbon stored in their bodies or maintained in soil back to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or methane. This quicken the global warming process. Don¡¦t forget that cellulose, fats, and proteins are not only carbon containing compounds, their main constituent is carbon, they form up the main body of all living beings. This is why roughly two-thirds of the earth¡¦s surface carbon is stored in the soil, letting this stored carbon loose into the atmosphere is simply mass suicide. Therefore one of the main tasks for combating global warming is to stop this sort of carbon release, or better still,  work towards getting the atmospheric carbon back to the soil.


Incessant Exploitation of Forests and Biodiverse Places

Soil deterioration not only harm the bio-productivity of farmland, when farming bosses find the output of a piece of field has become too low to be profitable, they will clear another field of environmentally valuable tree coverage, that means the world needs to develop new farmland every year. According to United Nation¡¦s Food And Agriculture Organization¡¦s projection released in 2012, in the next 30 years or so, every year humans need to develop more than 10,000 square kilometer of new farmland to fulfil the increasing food demand, and population growth,  and the most important of all, to replenish farmland that¡¦s become far less productive.


When farming bosses look for new farmland, they of course will not consider low bio-productive places, this usually results in the clearing of highly biodiverse forests. The mass burning of tropical rainforest in Indonesia and large scale clearing of Amazon rainforest in recent years are but some of the classic examples. But if the existing farmland can all be used in a sustainable manner, the need to develop new ones can be diminished by at least 90%.



Damaging Regional And Global Ecosystems

The harmful effect of what we may call farm drugs is not restricted to farmlands, orchards and farm products alone, these drugs do not stop at the fenses but impact surrounding insects and animals in the wild as well. The honey bee is a classic example. People began to be bewildered at the shrinking of bee populations throughout Europe and US in the first decade of the 21st century. At first scientists doubted the mobile phone signals may have interfered the bees¡¦ direction finding mechanism, so that they lost their way home. Subsequent detailed studies found this is not the case. What should be responsible is the newly developed neonarcotinoid pesticides, a kind of insects¡¦ neurotoxin that causes the so called CCD(colony collapse syndrome), the finding led to European Union¡¦s banning of certain neonarcotiniod pesticides in her member countries in mid 10s.


Emergence of Organic Farming

There is much that has been realized about the harm of mainstream industrial farming, and those who are aware of these must be overwhelmed by such foolishness and we need not exhaust exploring all the harmful effects one by one. So what about organic farming? If we can switch the mainstream practice to organic, can all the problems be solved? The answer is, part yes. However, there remain two main environmental problems, i.e., habitat loss and continental hydrological cycling obstruction that are waiting to be solved. As long as your crops occupy farmland, you create these problems no matter you are organic or the first three zones of permaculture.


Habitat Loss From Farming Land

Experienced farmers all know about this, once a piece of farmland is abandoned, in a few years¡¦ time things growing there will no longer be their crops, but many different kinds of mosses, lichens, grasses, shrubs and young pioneer trees together with lots of insects, worms, bugs. It is these plants who have the natural right of abode on that land , not your crops.



Continental Hydrological Cycling Obstruction In Land Occupied By Farming

Looking down upon forest or scrublands from above, you cannot see the exposed ground or soil, layers of plant leavies above have covered it completely, whereas exposed soil can be seen on agricultural land from above or any angle. When it rains, a large portion of the downpour hits the soil of the farmland directly and drains away without hindrance, leaving only a small portion sticking on the leavies and stems. This also applies to vegetable fields, for the short lived vegetable roots do not spread wide, grow deep and last long, leaving the farmland soil easily infiltrable. Instead of running off as surface water, this farmland rainwater filters down into aquifers and so cannot benefit the fauna and flora of the surrounding ecosystem. Not only so, as the stem and leavies can only hold a small portion of the downpoured rainwater, the amount of which can be evaporated back to the atmosphere is also small. Careful studies indicates that on average only about 20% of the downpoured rainwater can go back to the sky, as compared to 80% of natural forest, and it¡¦s this difference which causes shrinkage in continental hydrological cycling.


Deep inside continental hinterland, surface evaporation cannot provide the inland air enough moisture for ¡§enough¡¨ precipitation. To have enough rainfall, the water vapour has to come from the oceans. When the oceanic air mass flows inland, it brings along a lot of water vapor evaporated from the ocean surface. However, as these air masses moves inland, most of them precipitates on coastal regions, if 80% of the downpour can go back to the sky, they can retain 80% of it¡¦s water content as they move deeper into the continental hinterland. But if the non-hinter continental land mass has mostly been developed into farmland, then only 20% of the downpour can go back to the sky, the same air mass will move inward with a much drier water content, leaving the continental hinterland without enough rain to keep forests growing. Deforestation in hinterland can kick off a vicious cycle. Without forest cover, sunlight hits the ground soil directly, which heats up the top soil and thus heats up the surface air mass relatively more, making the air temperature in the local area a lot higher than when there was forest. This higher temperature makes rainfall more difficult as higher temperature can hold more water vapour without condensing into water droplets. After the forest is gone, rainfall becomes more scarce, plant growth becomes more difficult, the area downgrades to savanah, and if the process goes on, it further downgrades to grassland or even desert.



Historical Evidences

Inferring from these mechanisms alone we can already conclude that massive land clearing farming causes deforestation and desertification, Factual evidence can be found in the recent geological history. Geographically, Iraq and her surrounding desert are now nearly soil free, yet was historically called ¡¥The Fertile Crescent¡¦. This was the region in which human first settled 8 to 10 thousand years ago, establishing farmland for wheat and barley. This could not have happened unless there was sufficient rainfall without original forests. We can surmise that it was those thousands of years of wheat and barley farming that turned those fertile lands to desert, thus leading to the downfall of the Babylonian Empire around 2500 years ago. Another classic example of land degradation is Inner Mongolia of China. According to the ¡¥Classic Of Mountains And Seas¡¦ compiled some time between 2000 and 2500 years ago, that area was covered by forest. Today it has been deteriorated to largely grassland. a Hong Kong Geography professor of The Baptist University attributed the cause of this land degradation to thousands of years of farming in China.



Organic Farming Only One Factor In The Farming Solution

Isn¡¦t those traditional farming in pre-industrial times the equivalent of organic farming? If such kind of farming still led to the disruption of continental water cycling, causing desertification and habitat loss, what then is the use of the latter? We may say although it¡¦s not a long term farming solution, It¡¦s still useful as an interim measure for organic farming is a far lesser evil comparing to the prevalent type as far as the environment and consumer¡¦s health is concerned. Especially in facing the urgent most global warming crisis, organic farming does not release soil carbon back to the atmosphere so much like the prevalent industrial type. Not only so, if organic farmers compost farm waste, the practice can store carbon taken from the atmosphere back to the soil through soil regeneration. Since the carbon in the crops or kitchen waste is taken from CO2 in the atmosphere during the process of photosynthesis, composting the farm waste and then putting them back to the soil as fertilizer means CO2 from the atmosphere becomes a part of soil texture, adding up the soil mass, i.e., a process of Carbon Sequestration. Of course, we should bear in mind that not all organic farming has the carbon sequestration effect, only those that compost farm waste or kitchen waste do.


So, before humans can find out an ultimate farming solution, organic farming should still be promoted and developed as an interim  mainstream farming practice.



Having understood all the main evil and merit of organic farming, those who are looking for the way out for all life on earth know that they still need to develop new farming solutions which can be free of all the evil mentioned above. Attempts have been put forth by certain farmer-ecologists since early twentieth century, and some years later two Australian ecologists, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, together propounded the theory of Permaculture in 1978. In the broadest sense we may say the permaculture theory consists of two parts, one mental and the other material. The mental part deals with the mindset of farming practitioners, while the other part deals with farming arrangements and techniques. We may say permaculture tells people not only how to farm, but also how to think together with an attitude guideline towards farming, or a set of farming ethics.


Why Permaculture Can Solve The 2 Universal Farming Harms?

Many claim this to be the ultimate farming solution for our troubled world. Needless to say, farming ethics directs the behaviour of a farmer, thus her/his farming practice, therefore an ethical set of farming ethics is essential. When asked about how a good motive necessarily lead to a practice which can solve all the farming problems, as permaculture already provides farmers with concrete techniques and arrangements to follow, the chance should be small that a good motive would lead to undesirable results. All we need to ask is only whether a permaculture farmer will follow the farming ethics especially when their farms is situated in highly competitive markets.


It all sounds nice. If so, the rest is only in spreading the idea and practice. However, permaculture can be a farming solution depends largely on zone 5, usually a farmer¡¦s self gazetted wilderness; and a part on zone 4, a mixture of native trees together with artificially planted ones and with free range cattle and or poultry kept inside for money making and usage purposes. Zone 1 to zone 3 makes nearly no difference from organic farming, and so bear the same problem of continental hydrylogical cycling obstruction and habitat loss if zone 5 is too small or even absent, otherwise, when most farms in a place can all be planned according to permaculture principle, their zone 5 will then be connected together and turn the place from non forest farmland back to largely natural forest with lots of zone 0 to zone 3 islands situated inside.The natural forest thus created becomes the restored natural habitat of that place, it can at the same time overcome the hydrological cycling problem caused by the farmlands to a certain degree. Right from the theoretical stage, we can¡¦t be certain if the 2 main problems caused by organic farming can be overcome completely, but it should not be any doubt permaculture can lessen the 2 problems at least to a large extent.


The Reason Permaculture Farms Is Still Very Rare After Half Century Of Development

So far so good, it seems permaculture can no doubt be a farming solution in theory. However, after decades of promotion and practice since mid 70s, so far still nearly no permaculture products can be found in the food market, inspite lots of permaculture schools and courses have been opened in most developing and developed countries, many ecovillages have employed permaculture to plan and run their ecovillages, yet genuine permaculture farms are still rare. Why?


The culprit is zone 5. A farmer can hardly get useful yield from this zone, yet he still need to rent or buy this piece of land, thus the land cost of zone 5 is added to the cost of the other four zones¡¦ yields, making them more costly and less competitive than other organic food. Customers are willing to pay the much more expensive organic food for their own health¡¦s sake, but are they willing to pay a even higher than organic food price simply because permaculture food is more environmentally friendly than organic ones, especially when the average people mostly have a misconception that organic food is already environmentally friendly enough?


Another reason for permaculture¡¦s non popularity is that it has a lot more diverse farming items which would have to be grown or raised in a permaculture farm. In zone 4 you need to have many kinds of fruit trees together with timber, soap and other utility trees. Some cattle and or poultry are better kept underneath as well. Not only so, you need to have a fish pond with many kinds of fish and frogs inside in zone 3¡K¡Kfarmers simply find this ineffective and too troublesome.


But the most influential point of all is still permaculture products are not so fit into the competitive market economy. Nowadays most farms in the world are function under just such an economic system. Even granted we can educate the public into buying the more expensive than organic permaculture products, under strong competition permaculture farms will have to search through every corner of their farms for rooms to cut down the cost, zone 5 and even zone 4 are just too pronounced an item for the cost not to be cut there. They will proceed to dwindle the sizes of zone 5 and even zone 4. When the majority of the surrounding farms act likewise, the forest in the place restored through establishment of permaculture farms will be thinned out to such an extent that the restored natural forest can no longer function to remedy continental hydrological cycling and restore lost habitat.


Apart from those well-resourced Permaculture Educational establishments, only those farms functioning independently of existing markets, such as private and community gardens and the genuine Eco-Village, are currently able to employ Permaculture. However, for most farmers, being able to fit into the existing competitive market is an essential production strategy for economic survival. For the majority of farms to switch to a permaculture model of production, a complete change of mindset, agricultural practice models, skill sets and markets would be required. In the short term, that Permaculture might be a feasible farming solution is very much in doubt, unless we can change the current global economic model from existing competitive markets to a resource based, globally collaborative and sharing model. This doesn¡¦t imply that fervent farmers should abandon Permaculture; by no means. The Permaculture campaign should continue, as must organic farming. My aim is that we must not develop a false confidence that there is a solution. Not yet!


"Natural" Farming:

There are other farming methods, which I would rank as ¡¥better than organic, more feasible than permaculture¡¦ and classify as ¡¥low input farming methods¡¦. However, I decline to call them ¡¥natural¡¦ , as most other farmers do. A piece of land dedicated to growing crops is not natural at all. Even though the farmer¡¦s touch on the land may be no more than planting the crop for later harvest. The natural process of the land, even with crops planted, will be that after a few years natural succession processes will replace most of your crops with grass, shrubs and pioneer trees of local species. If those crops persist there for years with more or less the same number, then it must be seen as ¡¥unnatural¡¦ i.e. the result of the farmer¡¦s effort. So, to be honest we had better call similar methods ¡¥low input farming method[TM1] ¡¦. As the name implies, such methods usually input little to no fertilizers, require only a little man power to do the weed trimming instead of elimination. Thus the planted crop co-exists with other herbs and shrubs in the field, and the mutual check and balance of various bugs and germs. It is realized, in this effective species co-existence, that no input of pesticides and fungicides are required. Even so, such farmland still cannot be regarded as restored habitat land, for natural succession still cannot take place there. If habitat restoration is not allowed, the problem of habitat loss is still present. So is the continental hydrological cycling problem, unless the crop is fruit trees, the co-existing herbs and shrubs are simply too small to cover the whole farmland surface and provide large enough canopy to hold enough raindrops.



Returning Farmland Back to Natural Forest?

Most people have a thinking that returning farmland back to natural forest must be a net gain to both the global and local ecosystem, yet upon in depth analysis such conception crumbles at once. One must bear in mind that the amount of global farmland needed is not dictated by the will of farmland owners, but by the global population as well as the type of food they eat, their eating habit, farming methods employed, etc..For example, if the global population increases, more food will be needed, farm owners will develop more farmland to fulfil the increased demand on food and vice versa. If people eat more meat, even though the demand on food remains the same by weight, the demand on farmland will still increase as meat needs far more farmland to produce per unit weight, ......So, suppose a 1000 acre of farmland is turned back to natural forest, as the global food demand won't change because of such practice, it only results in decreasing the amount of food originally produced by the 1000 acres of farmland, thereby increases the demand of food by the same amount, other farm owners will quickly develop 1000 acres more of farmland to fulfil the need in other places, thus render the returning farmland back to wild forest useless.


On the other hand, if the returning of farmland is not just back to an idle piece of wild forest, but can still have food yield as well, the result is going to be completely different. Suppose the abandoned 1000 acre farmland can still have 20% of food yield it originally had, farm owners of other places will only develop roughly 800 acres new farmland to fulfil the increased food demand, not 1000 acres, as the abandoned one can still yield a 200 acre equivalent amount of food. This argument sounds convincing, but how can an abandoned piece of farmland, or rather, a plot of wild forest can still have food yield just seems not possible.


The Evil And Suffering that Come With The Transition To Agriculture

Farming's harm does not rest in damaging the earth's life support system alone. It also pushes humans into a purgatory-like situation. Paleopathological studies reveal that at the onset of agriculture, the earliest farmers suffered from malnutrition and deficiency-related diseases and physique. This phenomenon is prevalent among the earliest farmers in different places in the world, while the same studies on pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherers show no sign of similar problems.



Health Deterioration

Health deterioration is prevalent among the earliest farmers but not among the latest hunter-gatherers right before the agricultural transition. Modern city dwellers find this difficult to digest as they have been soaked in the overwhelming information of three eras of human "progress": the development from hunting-gathering to agriculture and to industrialization. However, health deterioration can easily be found to be reasonable upon pondering as farm yield contains far less complete protein and B complex than a meat-fruit mixture. Neolithic men's knowledge about nutrition was very limited, and they had no idea that depending on grain as their main food could lead to complete protein and B complex deficiency.


Non-Reversible Transition, Day-Long Hard Labour

Health deterioration is only small matter comparing to the end of the lifestyle without long hours of annoying labouring. Farming has to involve a lot of daily hardwork: soil tilling, weed clearing, ¡K, and other time-consuming repetitive labor, completely incomparable to the fun of game chasing and fruit collecting of the hunter-gatherers. Even worse, the matter was not easily reversible. The earliest farmers who found the farming life not worthwhile quite often could not revert back to hunting-gathering. Once the natural growth forest had been cleared to create farmland, gaming animals and wild fruit disappeared. Even if the earliest farmers later abandoned using the farmland, game and fruit could not come back within a few decades' time. You had to migrate to other places if you wanted to. Not only that, but the remaining hunter-gatherers would also find livelihood much more difficult when the neighboring tribes had taken up farming. Since the surrounding wild forests were cut down, the remaining barren land could no longer support the game animals and wild fruits they need. The same thing happened again in the post-WW2 Tanzania Haksa hunter-gatherer tribes.


Crumbling Invaluable Social Values

The decline of hunter-gatherer social values is a more significant issue than the daily grind of repetitive labor. Recent anthropological studies have shown that almost all mobile hunter-gatherer tribes practice strict equality measures, from the distribution of food and necessities to political power within the tribe. This is a form of direct democracy that is not seen in stationary or farming tribes. While this may seem incomprehensible at first, a little systems thinking and understanding of how tribespeople live in the wilderness can help us understand why.


Individual hunter-gatherers can survive on their own or with their families in the wild. They join a tribe for a more secure food supply, more playmates, and a more secure old age. If they feel that the tribe is not treating them fairly, they can simply leave and live on their own in the wilderness. Therefore, a tribe cannot maintain its members if they do not treat everyone equally. This explains why almost all mobile hunter-gatherer tribes adhere strictly to the principle of equality. Stationary tribes may not follow this principle because they have made the surrounding nature less supportive of food due to changes in their food and population practices. The prerequisite for becoming stationary is the ability to produce food, such as through cattle or poultry rearing or planting food crops. This allows them to settle down, live in larger and more complex houses, and own more material possessions, tools, and wealth. Their ability to produce food also allows them to grow in population, not constrained by the food supply of the surrounding ecosystem. This leads to a tribal population much larger than the surrounding nature can support, resulting in over-hunting and gathering. This is why stationary tribes do not necessarily practice full equality among all members. When a power-hungry leader emerges in a tribe, the deprived members may want to leave but are deterred by the fear that they may not be able to make a living in the wilderness. They end up choosing to stay, accepting inequality or even exploitation.


The transition from mobile hunting and gathering to stationary living is irreversible for the reasons mentioned above. This may also be the reason why humans switched to an agricultural economy from hunting and gathering. Anthropologists cannot find a good reason why our ancestors would have made such a transition, but if the change is irreversible by chance, then an all-out transition to agriculture is possible.


What Price To Pay For?

What is the appeal of agriculture? Or rather, what is the cost of switching to agriculture? There are two types of costs: manifest and hidden. The manifest costs include the daily mechanical repetition of manual labor, longer working hours, and less tasty food. In mobile hunting-gathering tribes, the amount of food they can get is limited by what the surrounding nature can provide, so they maintain a stable population. However, in agricultural villages, villagers believe that more people mean more hands and more food yield, resulting in a much larger population than what the natural surrounding food yield can support. This leads to insufficient game animals and wild fruit for the village to consume, resulting in less tasty food.


The Hidden Price:  Social Hierarchy, Brutality, War, Empire, Slavery, Banishment From Eden


The hidden costs, however, are much dearer. The first hidden cost is worsened health. Agriculturists' diet mainly consists of vegetables and grains, which lack sufficient complete proteins and B complex. Overpopulation also tightens their food supply, making the earliest farmers malnourished and illness-prone. The second hidden cost is ecosystem deterioration. The earliest farmers had to clear forests for farming, overhunt and overgather the surrounding regional ecosystem, causing ecosystem deterioration and habitat loss over long periods of time. As farming depends on a healthy regional ecosystem for a good harvest, this also means that the place will be poverty-stricken. The third hidden cost is that farming begets barter markets, which beget money, which begets wealth amassing, which begets greediness, exploitation of natural resources and other people, emerging of social hierarchy, power differentiation, fraternal society, army for conquering other peoples, kingdoms, enslaving peoples in other defeated places. Humans have fallen into a purgatory state, and global environmental conditions have dropped to an unprecedented low.

Physical anthropologists have examined the health of the last hunter-gatherers and the first farmers, while archaeologists have examined the regional environment of the last hunter-gatherers and the surrounding environment of the first farming villages. The effects of the transition on human health/nutrition and global environmental conditions can thus be found out.

In the abstract of the thesis, jointly prepared by the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, the Department of Anatomy of Tel Aviv University, and the Department of Archaeology of University College Cork of Ireland, titled "Paleopathology and the Origin of Agriculture in the Levant," the authors summarize that the health profiles of pre-Neolithic and Neolithic populations in the southern Levant were compared based on the study of 200 Natufian skeletons and 205 Neolithic skeletons. The results indicate a higher prevalence of lesions indicative of infective diseases among the Neolithic population, but an overall reduction in the prevalence of degenerative joint disease. The authors suggest that the transition to agriculture resulted in a complex health profile shaped by various factors, including an increase in exposure to disease agents, changes in diet, population aggregation in larger and denser settlements, changes in activity patterns and the division of labor, and a higher resistant immunological system and response capacity to environmental aggressions.

The consequences of the transition to farming do not end there. It is worthwhile to examine the emergence of empires and slavery in more detail, as it is a common misconception that war, empire, and slavery are elements of human history since the earliest ancestors roamed the grasslands and forests of Africa, Asia, and Europe. Recent scientific studies of hunter-gatherer tribes before and after the transition to agriculture reveal that war was not common before the transition but turned rampant only after that. One such representative study was held by Douglas Fry and Patrik Soderberg of Ado Akademi University in Finland. Their study in the US journal "Science" suggests that the origins of war were not rooted in roving hunter-gatherer groups, but rather in cultures that held land and livestock and knew how to farm for food.

In facing the various global environmental crises, we are bewildered by the unshakable human greediness, firmer than rock indifference to impending total collapse, desperate grasp of money, power, and social status. Modern people tend to believe that this is human nature, but upon close examination of Neolithic hunter-gatherer culture as against agricultural ones, we quickly find that this is not the case. Greediness, money, power, matter, and status-proneness are only the byproducts of agricultural and industrial civilizations, not inherent nature of humans.

Zero Impact Farming As A Repentance Of Human Sins Towards Nature

The Naming of Zero Impact

The first thing to ponder is naming. Intuitively ¡§Zero Impact Farming¡¨ should be the proper name, for it stresses farming without the least impact to Nature. But a quick witted arguer will at once retort that even you only insert a small piece of seedling, you have to dig a small hole, take away the mud inside together with the grass attached to it, isn¡¦t this an impact no matter how slight it is? What then if we re-coin the name as ¡§minimal impact farming¡¨? This should be the most appropriate term that although the practice¡¦s impact to Nature is not absolutely zero, it¡¦s the minimum we can have among all types of farming we can think of. However, if you are not a shrewd social activist keen on absorbing the lessons from failure, you would not have the idea that the concept you want to spread to the public may not be the same of what the public receives. The drawback of the term "minimal impact farming" is that the public cannot get a rough idea what it is from the name alone, they usually mix them up with Natural Farming(please see the urgent need section), therefore this is still not the best term to be used.


Again, we may question is it necessary to avoid the impact to Nature up to such a strict sense that we even cannot dig a tiny hole nor pluck out a small bundle of grass? Bear in mind that lots of animals are doing just that everyday, if the amount of what humans do is far less than those done by wild animals, then it makes no difference to Nature whether we do that or not. In this broader sense, occasionally digging a few tiny holes and stepping on grass can still be taken as zero impact. An anology is what impact it has to the water surface when one jumps into water. If one jumps into a swimming pool without onyone swimming, the water surface must be very smooth before the jump, this jumping must create ripples on the water surface, effecting an impact to the water surface. This is analogues to impacting Nature in the absolute sense. But if one jumps into the sea with lots of boats rowing and people swimming around, the sea surface of course is not smooth before the jump, with lots of irregular ripples on the surface. This jumping simply cannot make any difference to the condition of the sea surface, therefore it can exert no impact to the water surface. Similarly, as lots of animals have been digging holes, eating grasses, stepping on grasses etc., your occasional getting into the jungle, cutting a little grass, stepping on it, and digging a few tiny holes on the ground, etc., can make no difference to Nature, and so such handling exerts no impact to Nature.


So long as we define Zero Impact to Nature in a practical sense, this kind of farming can achieve zero impact. When we employ this term, the information received by the public is clear and explicit enough even in the ears of the uninformed: Getting food from the wilderness without effecting any practical difference to her. For the uninformed, however, minimal impact farming may mean natural farming or agro-forestry, if they don¡¦t know there¡¦s another kind of farming which could even exert a less impact to Nature, so this isn¡¦t the wisest term to be used.


The Definition of Zero Impact

If we don¡¦t take zero impact up to an absolute sense, then we must define what¡¦s zero impact and judge whether or not the definition is suitable. The kind, number and distribution of vegetation cover in a plot of wild land varies with time, look to be changing in a random fashion. The animals and micro-organisms that come with the vegetation cover also seem to be changing in a similar random way, though they are also related to the sort of plants growing there. If the changes are all random, we simply needn¡¦t care about whether a fruit tree etc. planted in it has exerted an impact to the wilderness or not. But the fact is that, when one naturalist happens to come across a few isolated guava trees inside a wild forest, he would not doubt the guava trees have been growing naturally there, but if what he sees is a forest of guava, he will at once know the forest is not grown naturally there, it must be planted there by humans. A keen naturalist has an eye to discern things in the wild, they know the small plot of forest is not natural only because the growth pattern has violated the mechanism of ecological succession too overtly. In Hong Kong, a barren hill slope right after hill fire undergoes roughly 4 stages of succession. At first only grass and a few kinds of drought resistent ferns, such as false staghorn fern, can grow there. After two or more years the grass-fern vegetation cover makes the slope wetter, thicker in soil and richer in nutrient, thrubs or sometimes even a few stand alone pioneer trees can start to grow there, the most commonly seen stand alone species is wax tree. This is also the beginning of the second stage: shrub growth. In this stage, grass and false staghorn fern have receded, become far less common. The hill slope is dominated by thrubs, dominating species may be rose myrtle, common melastoma, etc., and even emblic myrobalan if the underlying rock structure is granitic. Ferns of oriental blechnum and cyclosorus etc. can grow under the shades of tall thrubs.


Again, After a few years, the thrub growth on the hill slope makes the soil even thicker, wetter, and richer. Young pioneer trees of various species can take root on the slope, marking the beginning of the third succession stage: young tree forest. The young tree canopies obstruct the thrubs' sunlight, and their roots extend to take hold of more underground soil. The thrubs can no longer thrive there and have to make way for tree growth. However, it's important to note that not all trees can survive in this environment. Only a small percentage of them can thrive, while most other pioneer species will be eliminated later due to various factors. This is why they are classified as pioneer species, as they cannot last too long. Most of them can only live through the young forest stage.


After ten or more years, some tree species can grow up to their maximum height. During this time, non-pioneer native species like incense tree, scarlet sterculia, and tung oil tree can also settle down on the hill slope gradually. This makes the area more biodiverse and supports the livelihood of more animal, bird, insect, and bug species. When the ecological succession has reached this stage, we say that it has entered the fourth and final stage: mature to climax forest. In this stage, the number of species keeps increasing, and rare to endangered species may be found. The forest becomes more and more biodiverse until it achieves climax.


What kind of plant growing in one place looks to happen by chance, but there¡¦s still broad order governing what can be grown in a particular location. Besides soil and rock type, climate, surrounding living and non-living thing conditions as well as their activities all play a part, but natural succession is a decisive factor. Generally we may conclude it to be ¡§Chance shaped by natural order and necessity¡¨. It is this mechanisms that decides what is and will be growing in one particular location. So, to avoid impacting Nature while getting food in the wild, we are free to effect change so long as it is within the realm of chance, at the same time our work must abide by the natural order and necessities. Therefore, we should take natural succession as the basic most criteria for not impacting Nature. That is, we must not affect the succession process to any degree. The above should be the very principle, and what we still have to ponder is:  Is it possible to know if a plot of natural land's succession has been affected, as the chance factor also plays an important part in what¡¦s growing there? The answer is:  If the violation is slight, it is difficult to find out, but if the violation is significant, it can be seen very easily. That means, when the impact to succession or to biodiversity advancement keeps enlarging, it can be found easily. The next question then is, if the impact is not discernible, would it harm the local ecosystem? The answer is, an impact which is indiscernible to an expert, it would not harm the local ecosystem also. On the other hand, apart from on site observation, we can also decide if an operation has effected a slight impact upon Nature through theoretical inference.

With this criterian, implanting a plant or fungal species back to it's natural habitat all according to it's growth pattern and not violating what it naturally should have in that habitat may be taken as a chance factor within the succession mechanism. The succession process in that particular habitat simply need not be taken as being affected by the implanting and also will not be affected in future.

The First Zero Impact Farming

Experimentation & Development In The World

Zero Impact Farming Experimental Zone, jointly held by Zero Impact Forest Farm (Formerly called Lotus Valley Ecoop Farm) and Yi O Farm. Located on Lantau Island, HK.,

Headed by Pang, Yiu Kai, writer of this article.


Nature enthusiasts often wonder why they cannot find the food they usually buy from the market growing naturally in the wilderness. Wild padi, wheat, potatoes, and other edible plants and animals are rarely seen in the wild. While human intervention has played a role in this, another significant reason is that the natural habitats of these foods have largely been cleared for farming. The remaining wilderness is often unsuitable for their growth, as they are broken down into smaller isolated habitats by farmlands, towns, or other human establishments. This fragmentation makes it difficult for plant and animal species to spread to suitable locations, resulting in species deficiency in most isolated habitats. For example, while larger streams' lower courses in Hong Kong are usually suitable for natural banana growth, wild bananas cannot be found in Hong Kong, as all that can be seen are planted by farmers.

What then is the evidence that these locations had wild bananas before Hong Kong was first inhabited? The answer is in Guangdong Province' nearly uninhabited deep mountains. The longest mountain there is the Lotus Mountain Range. It begins in Southern Fujian Province and extends south southwestward through the middle eastern part of Guangdong all the way down to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is situated in the southern most tip of the Lotus Mountain Range,--- the obsolete version of the Pacific Ring of Fire active in the Jurassic Period. In the section of the mountain range around 120 Km north northeast of Hong Kong, we can still find a hundred plus square kilometers of mostly uninhabited high mountains and deep valleys, it¡¦s also there we can still find wild banana thickets growing along stream bank mudflats in deep mountain valleys. Hong Kong streams¡¦ lower course mudflats in fact are more suitable locations as the latter has a warmer winter. So if Guangdong¡¦s deep mountain valleys can have wild bananas, the more so should be the fertile stream bank mudflats in Hong Kong.


The above three points are enough to let us know, when our ancesters first roamed the furtile wilderness on this earth, they could gather food and hunt for animals fairly easily, they don¡¦t have to suffer from daylong hard labour to get their daily meals, the present day human situation is only the result of misguided civilizational development, the transition to land occupying farming is the culprit. The development has been wrong as we have already found solid evidences that the development has brought more suffering, poorer health to humans, as well as worsening natural environment. Although agriculture has a systems advantage in knowledge, craftsmanship, art development, at the same time it also has a systems disadvantage in humanist ultimate social values: brotherhood of man, equal right and liberty .

The writer¡¦s zero impact farming exploration:

At first The writer¡¦s plan was to develop an ecovillage only, but he thought that he should develop the necessary skills first, especially farming, so he started doing some organic farming and bee keeping in 2003 inside a certain valleys in the Lotus Mountain Range in South Guangdong province of China. In 2006 he realized after 3 years of practice that even organic farming and bee keeping do exert some harm to the local and global ecological environment as stated in his The Urgent Need To Look For Ultimate Farming Solution article. He also realized that bee keeping¡¦s ecological impact can be far easier to overcome, so the writer set out to develop zero impact bee keeping in 2006. At first the practice was stationary local bee swarms in very biodiverse vegetation cover Lotus Mountain Valleys. It worked and became a success. The honey could be sold to Hong Kong¡¦s brandname stores even though the bee farm location was stated very clearly on the honey bottle¡¦s label that it is inside China. But the problem with this kind of practice is that such biodiverse montane forests are getting rarer and rarer, such method is difficult to be employed by bee farmers widely in future. So since 2013 he changed the operation to mobile local bee swarms stationing one to three months in nector abundant mountain valleys or abandoned nector flowing orchards. Such method can be used widely, since most wild places have nector abundant seasons, not only so, it can even have better honey harvest than the stationary ones, since the bee keeper can have honey harvest all year round by moving to other far away nector flowing valleys and can thus skip the low to no harvest seasons of stationary swarms.


So happen the valley above the writer¡¦s stationary bee farm has quite some wild banana thickets growing naturally along the stream bank mudflats. The writer takes this as a very enlightening discovery. It tells us that most stream bank mudflats do not have banana thickets only because such mini habitats have been isolated by human establishments, farmlands, villages and towns etc. which prevent bananas from spreading to those small and isolated natural locations suitable for it¡¦s growth. Therefore if we can have suitable knowledge and take enough care, we should be able to implant banana thickets onto the mudflat without impacting it, since doing so in a suitable manner, such as implanting one seedling every 10 meters away right beside the waterfront to leave room for other species to move in, is nothing more than species restoration for the mudflat community, while the exact subspecies may be taken as within the range allowed by chance. In 2015 the writer could find two parallel lower course streams saperated by a 20 to 50 meter wide mudflat on Lantau Island of Hong Kong, and the two far left and right sides of the two streams also had mudflats. Altogether there were three belt shape stream bank mudflats seperated by two parallel running streams. The mudflats were used as farmland which had been abandoned for some years with some sparsely growing shrubs and 3 year or older pioneer trees, an ideal place for zero impact banana implanting. In 2015 the land belonged to Yi O Village and had been leased out to the Yi O farm. So the writer discussed with Yi O farm to use the mudflats as a Zero Impact Farming Experimental Zone. The farm¡¦s managing director, Alan Wong, found the idea worth trying and agreed at once after seeking approval from the Yi O Village head and the experimental zone started to run in late 2015. So the experimental zone is a joint venture held by the writer¡¦s voluntary Zero Impact Forest Farm (Formerly Lotus Valley Ecoop Farm) and Yi O Farm. Yi O farm provides the stream bank mudflat land located at the north of their padi field and Zero Impact Forest Farm provides the idea and technical know how. The experiment has been developing smoothly even though in 2018 the category 5 super typhoon Mangkhut¡¦s eye passed by Yi O only a few tens of Km away, blowing down one third of all banana trees. Even so, the loss was not too serious. As the super typhoon hit Hong Kong in September, already late season for banana harvest, the blown down trees could also quickly re-grow a new seedling from their trunk base and next year could bear banana again.


There are several questions that arise when it comes to planting in this way:  Where comes the nutrient? If we fertilize the soil, we change the soil texture after some time, this is an impact. But if we don¡¦t, after a few years each thicket will have far less banana bearing trees and each tree will bear far less bananas. However, such worry is unnecessary. The stream water is mineral rich, it infiltrates the mudflat soil and replenishes it with minerals. Interactions among living creatures in the mudflat community above and inside the mudflat supply the mud with suitable organic matter. The natural process in the local ecosystem allows a certain nutrients to go to the fruit and then be taken away, so long as such nutrient give away don¡¦t exceed it¡¦s upper limit set by the water flow and the interaction among living creatures inside the mudflat community. Nature will regulate all these, the size of the banana thickets, how far they can grow away from the water front, what percent of trees in each thicket can bear bananas, and how many bunches can be hanged on one banana bearing tree, etc., are regulating factors, provided humans exert no impact to the community except cutting down the fruit bearing tree and taking the bananas away. The fallen tree will be attacked by bacteria and fungi, decomposed into simple organic matter, and return as nutrient into the soil. Very soon young seedling will come out from the remaining trunk base, and will grow into an adult tree in less than a year¡¦s time.


Farmers usually hold such concept that the surrounding weed compete for nutrient, so they must be cleared. But this banana restoration is different. Banana roots grow at a level lower than those of the weed and thrub, their nutrients come much more from underground animal activities and water infiltration from water front, not so much is from top soil. So the weed not only dosen¡¦t compete for nutrient with banana trees, it¡¦s fallen leaves and stems even add more organic matter and nutrient into the soil,  making the banana root level soil even more fertile than without weed.

To ensure that the banana planting has no impact on the mudflat community, a general survey of vegetation cover is conducted yearly in the experimental zone. So far, nothing unusual has been found, and the succession process is heading towards a secondary wild young tree forest stage, with turn-in-the-wind trees as the dominant species and Chinese wax trees as the next.

At a time of serious habitat loss and biodiversity deterioration because of encroaching desert, farmland and human establishments, the writer of this article wonders if it is possible to get food from Nature without impacting Her? He started to have such querry 16 years ago, set out to develop theory and do experiments according to this idea. Until now, the answer is a definite yes!